Through my work with the Canadian Museum of Flight I've met a number of great people including my very good friend, Bill Findlay. To call this man a friend is putting it mildly, he's also a mentor who's always been happy to show guidance, share his experiences and knowledge as I work my way towards becoming a pilot myself and hopefully joining the Museum as one of their pilots. It's through my friendship with Bill that I was able to attend my first of now many "Fly Day's" at Heritage Flight Museum in Bellingham, WA. Heritage Flight Museum, or HFM as we call it, was established in 1996 by the Anders Family. Fly Day occurs every 3rd Saturday of the month and features flights by some of their beautiful aircraft which are flown mostly by two very talented pilots, brothers Greg and Alan Anders .
Up to the time of this blog I've now been lucky enough to attend 4 Fly Day's at HFM and each time from the back seat of Bill's Harvard MK IV. The day will usually start with a morning departure from Langley to Bellingham after flight plans filed the day before through the eAPIS which is done entirely online and part of US Homeland Security. Flying to Bellingham International (KBLI) only takes about 12 minutes from Langley Regional (CYNJ). You're almost literally going from saying goodbye to Langley and picking up Bellingham's ATIS without pause in between. Having HFM so close to home makes it so easy for us to visit them regardless of whether you're going by air or by car. When you land you head immediately to the Customs box and go through the paces...usually a brief process all things considered and especially if you're used to sitting through long lineups in your car.
HFM's hospitality is instant as no sooner are you out of the Customs office when you see Hal Beatty pulling up to your airplane with the tug and a tow bar to get you down the large ramp area to the Museum. Most times when you get there you'll see the usual cast from HFM like Kate, J.R, Erika, Jeff, Greg and Alan along with local pilots like Craig Nelson and Mark Kandianis, both of whom also own North American SNJ's and often participate in Fly Day. Is Orcas Island considered local, Craig?
Flying usually begins around lunchtime and this isn't just a few pilots hopping into their aircraft to put something together on the fly (no pun intended). The whole thing is carefully planned and discussed at length in the pilots briefing which for someone like me are an incredible learning experience. They'll organize the formations, position changes, hand signals, radio calls and other procedures that are vital to a safe flight. This is absolute professionalism by a group of aviators , most of whom have been doing airshows for a number of years and take nothing for granted.
Now you're on the ramp walking toward your ride, you get strapped in and soon surrounded by the sound of Pratt & Whitney Radials roaring to life with smoke everywhere! Next you're taxiing out with the group, in the run-up and before you know it...Texan Flight is cleared for takeoff and you're rolling down one-six with another aircraft at your side in a section takeoff.
It's hard to describe what it's like the first time you form up with other aircraft, especially historic aircraft like the T-6/SNJ/Harvard. I just try my best to take it in, soak in as much as I can and of course, open the canopy and capture the moments with my camera. I pay attention to the sounds of the engine, the inputs on the stick and pedals and try to anticipate each action as best I can from the back seat. Each flight usually concludes with the group heading in one after another for a solo flypast with a left break over the Museum.
The debrief after the flight is every bit as interesting. This is where the group will discuss the flight and go over any details or issues they feel need to be addressed in advance of the next sortie.
What I learn and experience is invaluable and each time I get this amazing opportunity I build on the knowledge gained from the time before. I get even more motivated to get through my license so I can start working towards being able to one day sit in the front seat, working on my skills as a formation pilot. Working on my skills alongside great teachers such as those I get to fly with at Heritage Flight Museum and the Canadian Museum of Flight. I'm very fortunate for these experiences and I'm always very aware of it.
Something not everyone knows about me is that I've lived about half my 37 years deeply regretting that I never had my chance to join the RCAF and follow in the footsteps of my late Grandfather (Arthur Browne DFC), a Lancaster pilot in WWII. It wasn't because I lacked the talent or the ability, it was just bad timing and a VERY limited number of positions to do this job in Canada at the time. Fly Day's at HFM, more than anything else have been one of the very few things that remove that regret and make me feel like an 18 year old (again) finally getting the chance to live out a dream. I get to fly out there with a good friend in a beautiful vintage warbird, meet a number of amazing, talented people, sit in on briefings, learn the ropes and then hit the sky!! How does volunteering my time, sharing photos, buying oil, filling a gas tank or donating money to the upkeep of an aircraft come close to what I get in return?
I'd like to thank everyone at the Heritage Flight Museum for being as welcoming as they always are when we visit. Whether it's flying from their home in Bellingham or one of the many events they take part of including the one in my backyard, the Abbotsford International Airshow, they always carry themselves with the utmost professionalism and class and do an incredible job representing both themselves and the city of Bellingham, WA wherever they go. It's been a truly great ride and an honor getting to know them!
Until next time, I'll just keep looking at the photos.
Craig Nelson, Mark Kandianis, Lyle Jansma (photographer), Jeff Geer, Alan Anders, Greg Anders, Bill Findlay
stand in front of HFM's P-51D "Val-Halla" and behind Lyle and Fracie Jacobson in their '57 Ford Fairlane 500.